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Blockchain

Promise of Blockchain Could Help Seafood Traceability, Unique Challenges Remain

By Maria Fontanazza
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Blockchain

As our conversation about the potential of blockchain continues at Food Safety Tech, we sat down with Thomas Burke, food traceability and safety scientist, Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC) at the Institute of Food Technologists, to discuss how ready the seafood industry is in the adoption of blockchain, more specifically as it relates to traceability.

Food Safety Tech: What are the current major issues in seafood traceability?
Thomas Burke: Some of the challenges are diversity in product, diversity in regulatory compliance, a hyper-globalized supply chain and variable technology adoption.

I always like to distinguish seafood traceability from other major food commodities for several different reasons. When thinking about traceability and devising traceability systems, you want to think about use cases. For most food commodities, food safety is usually top of mind; there’s also a regulatory compliance component. Seafood still has food safety as a high priority, but there are also issues with illegal and unreported fishing and fraudulent issues in the supply chain. When you’re thinking about devising a traceability system, you also have to consider different key data elements. For instance, in food safety, while location is important, the location is only really important for tracing back in the event of recalling product. In seafood traceability you’re looking at racing back to ascertain if it was caught in the right place with the right method at the right time. With this as context, you also want to think about the technological challenges and food operations wise such as the diversity of commodities in seafood—there’s diversity in species way more so than in poultry or produce. You also have very different geographic locations, different harvest methods (i.e., farmed, wild); because of the diversity of harvesting practices, there are other considerations to think about. There are some traceability service providers that rely on a constant internet connection, and that’s obviously not possible if you’re fishing on the high seas. You might have equipment for data collections that works really well in the field or in the food manufacturing environment, but it may not work under the harsh conditions of a boat or in aquaculture. So we end up seeing a great diversity of technological adoption. Especially further upstream when thinking about other small-scale fishers and smaller processors—they generally only do traceability for regulatory compliance, because they just don’t have the capital to invest in technologically sophisticated data collection management. And sometimes it’s not necessary for what they’re trying to achieve. So, we still see a lot of paper records, basic spreadsheet data management, and then it gets more complicated as you go down the supply chain. Larger processors and retailers will have more dedicated traceability systems.

FST: Where do you see blockchain entering the traceability process and what other technologies should be used in conjunction with blockchain?

Thomas Burke will be presenting, “Blockchain won’t solve the food traceability challenge… but Interoperability and Data Standards will” at the 2019 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | May 29 –30  Burke: One of the things that we’ve found in our work at the Global Food Traceability Center and with the global dialogue on seafood traceability [regarding] blockchain is that there’s a lot of interest and hype around the application itself, which helps draw in solution providers and developers that are interested in applying a new technology to a new use case.

Blockchain is a data sharing platform. So the technologies that it’s comparing itself to are FTP (file transfer protocol) and transferring data through an EDI (electronic data interchange). This is a new way of sharing data between supply chain partners that has some unique capabilities, some of which are very advantageous for seafood.

When I was talking earlier about how there is variable adoption of technologies (i.e., small harvesters or producers that use paper records or use minimal digital records), blockchain has the advantage that data hosting is shared and decentralized across the notes of the network. What that means is that a small producer doesn’t have to set up a dedicated server infrastructure in order to communicate with their supply chain partners, whereas that’s more of the case with EDI; even with FTP you’ll still have to set up some kind of formal relationship with your servers. What’s nice about blockchain is that in order to host information on that network, you just pay a small amount of the currency that the blockchain runs on. It’s a little bit different if you have a private or consortium blockchain, but the idea is with the open blockchain applications is that you only pay on a per transaction basis (data upload basis). The larger the network is, the cheaper that is to do. So over the month, it’s a lower cost for participants for hosting the shared ledger of updates.

There are also some other advantages: It’s immutable; once it’s on the blockchain it’s very difficult to corrupt that data. There are other components to the problem of data collection and the transportation of data, along with the product along the supply chain. You still need certain legs of that stool such as a global identifier that identifies the product as it goes through the supply chain and gets incorporated into other products; you also need to collect the related data that’s necessary to make your use case. There’s a balance between the data collection and the identification [i.e., fishermen might not want to reveal their best location]. Those all need to be part of the picture, in addition to novel data-sharing platforms such as blockchain. A big part of what GFTC is trying to do in the seafood space is gather industry and work with them to develop standards and best practices to ensure the same data is being collected at each point and that data is able to be transported with the product in an interoperable way that takes into account the diversity of technological adoption along the supply chain.

FST: What level of blockchain adoption do you see in the seafood industry? How prepared is the industry, including retailers?

Burke: As far as adoption: It depends. There are a few different aspects that depend on whether companies will invest in a blockchain solution or not. It depends on what their current adoption is and their market. Where we’re seeing a lot of interest in blockchain being used as a component of data sharing for traceability is in more niche products that have more straightforward supply chains, and they’re using traceability as a market differentiator for their product. Right now, in order to invest in blockchain, you need to devote a significant amount of staff time or invest in a service provider to devise the blockchain scheme that you’re going for. There are a lot of unanswered questions about the implementation of blockchain. There are major players using blockchain in other types of food supply chains, but those are generally very vertically integrated companies that have a lot of resources—both IT resources and monetary resources to devote to this early experimental stage. And that’s where I would see it start first. If there’s success in those more limited trials, then maybe larger multinational companies might have interest in using it as a linkage between some of the information systems.

The biggest challenge with large multinational seafood companies is they have a lot of subsidiaries. And when they have subsidiaries, they might use different ERP systems; they’re looking at ways to transport the data into those disparate systems. And with seafood, as with most food commodities, it’s a fairly low margin industry. So most companies are going to be fairly conservative in investing in a new technology until it’s really being seen as a proven and achievably implementable software solution. Larger companies are still seeing more traditional cloud hosting such as EDI as a viable option for data sharing in food traceability. But blockchain is being seen in those niche areas and as the technology becomes more proven, we’ll probably see greater adoption. There’s just still a lot of skepticism in the industry, and that’s with any new technology.

I will say with other technologies in seafood traceability, I am seeing quite a bit of promise in AI [artificial intelligence] data analytics and image processing technologies just because it’s very difficult to identify products, especially early up in the supply chain. Some of these new technologies in data processing are going to help streamline data collection and be able to process it into those key data elements that you’re looking for to achieve those traceability use cases. There’s been so much development of facial recognition technology in humans that similar algorithms could be used in labeling fish. Those are some of the other promising technologies. There are some [uses of] IoT devices and RFID but those still remain to be seen—they have implementation issues, because there are quite a few environmental interferences on water or in humidity-rich environments, especially when you’re thinking about radio frequency resistance/interference.

In seafood right now, most of the blockchain-oriented applications are in line with NGOs that are experimenting with the use of blockchain as a traceability tool—and those tend to be high-end products like tuna or crab using blockchain in limited use cases. It’s still very much in the piloting and early implementation.

FST: What are the top three advantages to using blockchain for seafood traceability?

Burke: 1. Immutability. Once you put transactions onto the blockchain, because of the way the architecture is set up, it’s really difficult to alter that record. Other data sharing platforms don’t have the advantage of a singular record.
2. Decentralization. Everyone has access to the same leger that can be shared in real time across a global supply chain. Most of the other data sharing platforms are emphasized in one-to-one communication, whereas blockchain is many-to-many.
3. Flexibility and interest from the development community. There’s a lot of creativity associated with blockchain applications right now. There are a lot of developers coming up with interesting ideas of how to maximize the architecture to work for food traceability applications. Because it has an economic structure where you are using tokens that are powering the data processing, you can potentially do interesting things with incentivizing inputting data into a traceability system and monetizing it. We’re exploring that in the global dialogue—looking to see how you can tie the value of traceability data upstream, because that will help incentivize the entire ecosystem. There have been limited trials with startups that have been looking at incentivizing data collection through blockchain.

FST: Where do you see blockchain headed in five years?
Burke: I don’t see the actual architectural idea of blockchain idea going away. It’s a fairly brilliant way of ensuring that valuable data isn’t double counted or deleted. It helps reduce some risk.

The next five years will depend on what the end retailers end up adopting. In western markets, more specifically North America, the retailers have a lot of leverage in what standards and best practices are kept and carried through. So it will depend a lot on those large end retailers and how comfortable they are in adopting blockchain, and the decisions that they make behind blockchain providers.

The largest seafood markets are China and Japan, so [adoption] more depends on what those retailers/customer bases are demanding versus what happens in North America just because the demand is so much stronger there. That will also drive the development of blockchain interfaces and will influence the adoption among smaller scale fishers, which is more of the tendency in East Asia. It’s a very open question. I think it will be influenced by decisions that governments make in East Asia regarding blockchain.

I would emphasize that the success of seafood traceability and food traceability in general will be very dependent on standards, and the development of commonly understood and accepted practices, and the way those data standards are collected. So you can have a robust blockchain platform, but if every supply chain partner doesn’t agree to collect the same data and identify it in a similar way that is interoperable, it still won’t work—even if you have the most advanced technology. There’s a human process of agreeing upon the same way that traceability data is gathered. Interoperability and standards are key, in addition to the new technologies.

Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ

Traceability from Within Starts with Assessing Capabilities

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ

Consumers and industry alike want more transparency in the supply chain. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Julie McGill, director of implementation and strategic accounts at FoodLogiQ explains how companies can prepare to meet the increased demands and how technology can help.

Food Safety Tech: In light of the recent outbreaks and recalls, there an increased focus on traceability. What should companies do to get ready?

Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ
With the increased focus on traceability, companies should start assessing their internal capabilities, says Julie McGill of FoodLogiQ.

Julie McGill: There is so much that companies can do today to prepare, and they can start by assessing their current capabilities. What problems are you trying to solve? Have you identified all of your products and locations with GS1 identifiers? Are you using GS1 identifiers in your systems?

Do you have a data quality program in place? Are you able to mark all of your cases with a GS1-128 barcodes? Can you scan barcodes at receiving? At delivery? Are you sending EDI messages to your trading partners?

Those with successful programs will tell you this is a marathon, not a sprint. Securing executive support, aligning internal teams and setting expectations with trading partners is key.

Having the ability to act swiftly and with precision and accuracy is a differentiator during a recall. Trading partners who have made the investment are able to understand where these affected items are in their supply chains in seconds. These programs require a solid program, disciplined approach to implementation, and ongoing monitoring and management of the data. Companies that have committed to implementing these standards are gaining a competitive advantage today, as they are ready to meet the mandates and requirements set by their trading partners.

FST: Is it actually possible to trace products to the source? Can we trace produce back to the field or fish back to the oceans?

McGill: Yes, it is possible to trace products back to the source. Growing consumer demands and regulatory requirements, such as FSMA and SIMP, have led to the need for more detailed information about food and its origins. To achieve this, it’s imperative that companies standardize business practices, product identification and item data to enable interoperability across solutions and systems.

There has been tremendous work done by industry stakeholders to address traceability. They’ve mapped their entire supply chains, identified the key data elements and critical tracking events to be captured to enable full chain traceability. GS1 US hosts initiatives in foodservice and retail grocery, plus there are a number of industry-run initiatives, including the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), Supply Chain Optimization (SCO2), and Global Dialogue for Seafood Traceability. Food industry partners agree that full chain traceability will be achieved through education, industry input, and the use of standards.

Track and Trace, traceability, supply chain
The Track + Trace platform allows trading partners to capture and share the movement of products across the supply chain. When there’s the need to run an investigation, data is stitched together to provide visualization so trading partners can effectively and efficiently take action. Screenshot courtesy of FoodLogiQ

FST: When talking about traceability, blockchain is part of many conversations today. How does it differ from existing solutions?

McGill: Blockchain is an emerging technology that offers a way for companies to transact with each other and share information in a secure manner. What makes blockchain unique is that it is a shared, immutable ledger that records all the transactions in chronological order that cannot be altered or deleted. While this approach holds promise on raising transparency in the food industry, there is much yet to be tested and validated on its real-world application within the food chain.

The most common use case for blockchain in the food industry has been traceability. As blockchain technology, solutions and use cases are evolving, industry partners have come together to discuss it’s capabilities and use. We host a Blockchain Consortium, bringing our members together to explore blockchain. Industry groups are coming together as well, such as GS1 US, who is hosting a cross-industry discussion group to help companies better understand the transformative qualities of blockchain, including the use of GS1 Standards.

Blockchain has also made clear the need for companies to automate their record keeping and traceability systems and to eliminate the manual, paper-based processes that often slow down the resolution of a food safety outbreak or issue.

Blockchain is not a “light switch” solution. What’s widely misunderstood is that in order to achieve full chain traceability, all partners across the supply chain will need to implement processes to capture and share this critical tracking event data.

FST: Additional comments are welcome.

McGill: Foodservice companies share common drivers and common goals which improve the reliability of product information, lower costs and reduce risk. There are numerous benefits that can be realized once you have access to accurate and complete traceability data, including:

  • Limiting the scope and costs of recalls
  • Quicker and more accurate product withdrawals
  • Full visibility across the supply chain
  • Speed to market
  • Improved business intelligence
  • Creates operational efficiencies
  • Enhanced inventory management

Food Safety Vs. Blockchain: Who Wins?

By Maria Fontanazza
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The jury is still out on how (and if) blockchain can contribute to a safer food supply. Whether or not there is a clear understanding of the technology, and its potential and pitfalls, is up for debate as well. “What is blockchain? This is the number one question that people have,” said Darin Detwiler, director, regulatory affairs of food and food industry at Northeastern University, who led a panel of experts as they deliberated over this hot topic during the 2018 Food Safety Consortium.

“Blockchain levels the playing field where we can connect people, resources and organizations in ways we’ve never done before to harness new ways of extracting value,” said Nigel Gopie, global marketing leader, IBM Food Trust at IBM.

What Is Blockchain?

Gopie provided an introductory definition of blockchain: Simply put, it is a series of blocks of information attached together. Each block is a box of information that stores data elements, and this data could be almost anything. Each block has a digital fingerprint associated with it; this fingerprint allows you to know that the block is unique and can attach to other blocks. When new blocks come into the chain, each block has a new fingerprint—one that is unique to that block and of the block before it. This allows the connection to happen, and enables visibility into the origin of each block.

Blockchain enables one book of business and provides three important benefits, said Gopie:

  1. Digital transactions
  2. Distributed ledger with one version of truth throughout the network
  3. Data is immutable
Blockchain, IBM, Food Safety Consortium
IBM’s Nigel Gopie breaks down the basic meaning of blockchain for attendees at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium.

Although blockchain can help to start the process of solving food issues surrounding safety, freshness, reduced waste and sustainability, the technology is only the foundation. A series of other components are important as well, said Gopie, and the following are some insights that the expert panel shared during their discussion.

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
Is the Food Industry Ready for Blockchain? Check out a dynamic panel about the technology from the 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference.

Can Blockchain Actually Impact Food Safety?

Jorge Hernandez, chief food safety officer at Wholesome International: “To me, it’s a fantastic new technology that would allow the food industry to do a much better job of finding, from seed to fork, all of the processes and things that happen to that product. And in the future, [it] allows us to identify problems first and solve [them]. My problem is it being sold to companies…and not able to deliver on the promise… It bothers me that we are looking at a future that may or may not be there.”

Angela Fernandez, vice president, retail grocery & foodservice at GS1 US: “We’ve been working on traceability and transparency for over a decade—you have to be capturing the data needed, [and] we’re still working on getting it right. We’re just not there yet. I think it’s a great place for us to strive to go towards, but we’re still early in the stages of accepting it as a community.”

David Howard, vice president of corporate strategy at Pavocoin: “Blockchain itself is simply a technology. We’re all here because we’re just trying figure out what application we can use in business. Blockchain is a technology that can help all of you improve operational efficiencies for your bottom line.”

Is Blockchain a Barrier or a Fast Lane to Heightened Liability Concerns?

Shawn Stevens, food industry lawyer and founder of Food Industry Counsel, LLC: “I think the starting point is to ask ourselves what makes food unsafe. It’s a lack of transparency…What blockchain can do is illuminate entire segments of the industry…From a reactive standpoint, blockchain can help us identify a problem [and] solve it. From a preventive standpoint, if I have access to all this information regarding attributes and quality of supplier, I can make better decisions that protect my company.”

“We want to know more and be better informed. Once you know more, you better react and do something. If you’re getting this line of sight and you don’t react to it, that’s what exposes you to liability.”

Darin Detwiler, director, regulatory affairs of food and food industry at Northeastern University: “We need to look at the balance between the reactive use of blockchain and the proactive use.”

2018 Food Safety Consortium on Blockchain. (left to right) David Howard, Pavocoin; Jorge Hernandez, Wholesome International; Nigel Gopie, IBM; Angela Fernandez GS1 US; and Shawn Stevens, Food Industry Counsel, LLC. Not pictured: Darin Detwiler, Northeastern University.

What Barriers Does Industry Need to Anticipate?

Fernandez: “The barrier of the standards and interoperability piece—that’s a big question our community is asking us. Scalability… standards are vital…I think that opens up a different discussion when talking about private versus public blockchain.”

Hernandez: “What is my ROI? The issue I have with blockchain is not only the investment in my organization, but I have to bring my entire supply chain with me if I want to get any benefit. There’s a good value proposition, but it requires you to get everyone on board. When you’re a large organization, it’s probably not that hard to do. But a small organization like mine where my suppliers are an Amish community that sells us cheese, that’s a huge mountain to climb. They don’t have the background [or] the technology, and even if they wanted to do it, it’s a big change for them. You’re asking me to make a change in my relationship with my suppliers.”

“Take a look at it from the business continuity [perspective]. What are the changes you’re going to have to make? And that changes that have to be made by everyone who works with you? We should not stay static. We should continue to look for things. If this is the technology that is going to move us forward, let’s start getting prepared.”

2018

The Future of Food Safety: A Year in Review

By Mahni Ghorashi
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2018

We started this Q&A series earlier this year with a clear vision—to gather the success stories, best practices, hurdles and achievements from the best in our industry. Our hope is that as the series expands and evolves, food safety professionals everywhere will be informed and inspired by what the future holds.

Over the course of the year, I had the pleasure of interviewing three such experts: Bob Baker, corporate food safety science and capability director at Mars, Inc, Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart, and Mike Robach, vice president, corporate food safety, quality & regulatory for Cargill.

I encourage you to read the interviews for their unique perspectives, but here are a few of the biggest insights that we can all take with us into 2019.

The Continued Rise of New Technologies

Mike Robach: I am very excited about the application of new technology to our food safety programs. In-line, real-time testing gives an opportunity to manage our processes and make immediate adjustments to assure process control. This allows us to prevent product that is out of control from reaching the marketplace.

Frank Yiannas: The emergence of blockchain technology has also enabled food system stakeholders to imagine being able to have full end-to-end traceability at the speed of thought. The ongoing U.S.-wide romaine lettuce E.coli outbreak showed us, once again, that our traditional paper-based food tracking system is no longer adequate for the 21st century. An ability to deliver accurate, real-time information about food, how it’s produced, and how it flows from farm to table is a game-changer for food safety.

Blockchain has the potential to shine a light on all actors in the food system. This enhanced transparency will result in greater accountability, and greater accountability will cause the food system to self-regulate and comply with the safe and sustainable practices that we all desire.

The Most Exciting Shifts

Baker: What’s encouraging is we’re seeing is a willingness to share information. At Mars we often bring together world experts from across the globe to focus on food safety challenges. We continue to see great levels of knowledge sharing and collaboration.

There are also new tools and new technologies being developed and applied. Something we’re excited about is a trial of portable ‘in-field’ DNA sequencing technology on one of our production lines in China. This is an approach that could, with automated sampling, reduce test times.

Yiannas: While there is no doubt that there are numerous new and emerging challenges in food safety, the many advancements being made should give us hope that we can create a safer, more efficient and sustainable food system.

There is progress being made on many fronts: Whole genome sequencing is becoming more accessible; new tools are being developed for fraud detection; and FSMA is introducing stringent public-health surveillance measures that have dramatic implications for U.S. retailers and suppliers and our import partners.

Most importantly, consumers are now overwhelmingly interested in transparency. People today are further removed from how food is grown, produced and transported than at any other time in human history. Plus, they increasingly mistrust food and food companies due to the food outbreaks and scares we have faced in recent years.

Recalls and the Role of Regulation

Robach: I think FSMA implementation is going okay right now. There’s still a long way to go, and I am always concerned about making sure investigators are applying the rules and regulations in a consistent manner. I see the intentional adulteration rule as an upcoming challenge. It is one thing to conduct a vulnerability assessment and adjust your programs based on the results. It’s another to develop and implement a program that will prevent intentional adulteration as you would to reduce or prevent microbiological contamination.

I believe that food safety management programs are constantly improving and that our food is as safe as it has ever been. However, we still have a lot of work to do. At GFSI, we are continually improving our benchmarking requirements and increasing transparency in the process. We have better public health reporting and our ever-improving analytical technology allows us to detect contaminants at lower and lower levels. The industry is working collaboratively to share best practices and promote harmonized food safety management systems throughout the supply chain.

Baker: At Mars, quality is our first principle and we take it seriously—if we believe that a recall needs to be made in order to ensure the safety of our consumers, then we will do it. We also share lessons from recalls across our business to ensure that we learn from every experience.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a safe place for businesses to share such insights with each other. So although we are seeing more collaboration in the field of food safety generally, critical knowledge and experience from recalls is not being shared more broadly, which may be having an impact.

Looking Ahead

Baker: The food safety challenges facing us all are complex and evolving. Water and environmental contaminants are areas that industry and regulators are also looking at, but all of these challenges will take time to address. It’s about capturing and ensuring visibility to the right insights and prioritizing key challenges that we can tackle together through collaboration and knowledge sharing.

We’re looking forward to continuing our quest in the new year and already have a few exciting experts lined up. Stay tuned!

Food Safety Consortium

Making Your Supply Chain Smarter, Safer and More Sustainable

By Maria Fontanazza
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Food Safety Consortium

How to build a smarter, safer and more sustainable food supply chain: This was a big topic at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium last month. David McCarthy of IBM Food Trust led a panel of experts from the retail side of the industry in a Q&A session about their biggest challenges in the supply chain, the role of digital and how to achieve a higher level of transparency.

What are the main areas in the supply chain where there’s a major need for improvement?

Sean Leighton, vice president of food safety and quality, Cargill: One of the biggest challenges that I see from a supplier perspective is people’s assumptions around what is the supply chain—our mindsets, our ability to talk with each other on “what do you mean by ‘supply chain’”?

Cindy Jiang and Scott Horsfall at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium
Cindy Jiang and Scott Horsfall (all images credit: amybcreative)

What is food safety’s role in the supply chain?

Cindy Jiang, senior director of worldwide food safety, quality and nutrition, McDonald’s Corp.: The supply chain is a supply network; it’s not linear. The most fundamental thing is to ensure there’s no disruption—that the supply chain can provide goods and food product to your customers. When you’re looking at the supply chain, [there’s a] change between the traditional thinking and the digital demand. How do you provide information in an effective way to your customers?

Howard Popoola, vice president, corporate food technology and regulatory compliance, The Kroger Company: Our supply chain means nothing if we aren’t able to deliver safe foods to those consumers in the last mile. Consumers are thinking about the experience that they’re going to have with this product. They’re not thinking about whether it’s safe or not. They’re thinking about the meal they’re going to make at home with the ingredients that they purchased.

The biggest pain point from the retailer’s perspective, when you look at us as being the last in the chain, is in transparency [and] knowing where the products are coming from. Transparency is very big for us. And it takes more than the retailer to open that door of transparency to the consumer.

What are the challenges you’re seeing in providing transparency?

Scott Horsfall, CEO, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement: I think a big challenge right now and in the future is communication.

Leighton: I think the winners….are going to be the ones that try to achieve consumer trust. The future is no place for the three ring binders…it’s digital. Where does the data sit? How can you provide access to them through customers?

Howard Popoola, Sean Leighton, Food Safety Consortium
Howard Popoola and Sean Leighton

How does the digital transformation play into providing transparency?

Popoola: The consumers have already trusted the food industry. There are millions of people walking into retail stores buying product. If the trust isn’t there, they wouldn’t be doing that. We erode that trust when [a consumer] has a terrible experience with that product.

How are you seeing digital transformation across the supply chain?

Jiang: Digital is one of the top three initiatives of McDonalds; how do we connect with consumers? When serving 70 million customers each day, how can we get to the transparency to understand the supply—digital is one of the answers. From the supply chain standpoint, we’re looking at the analytics. We cannot think about only one solution. We have to have different solutions to get the end results.

Popoola: I think the food industry has to see itself as a big ecosystem. If we don’t see ourselves as an ecosystem that strives for the one thing,… digital is always going to be a mirage. We have to look at what is digital and understand the fact that [we have large and small companies]. It’s not going to be one size fits all.

How long will it take the food industry to get to a completely digital operation?

Jiang: Looking at the total industry digitized—the majority of the work can be done within the next five years, [by] looking at leading companies. But in terms of total digitalization of the ood network in the U.S., I think that will take another 10 to 20 years.

Food Safety Consortium
(left to right) Howard Poopola, Sean Leighton, Cindy Jiang, Scott Horsfall and David McCarthy discuss supply chain challenges during the 2018 Food Safety Consortium

Horsfall: I think there’s a challenge with much of the farm community to get to this point. There’s also this issue with how you transmit the information. [Horsfall predicts] 10-15 years for the industry.

Leighton: Even a 100% digitized food industry has limited value if the players in the industry can’t pull together to deliver meaningful insights from it all.

What are the most promising innovations solving transparency?

Jiang: When looking at innovation, not just technology (technology is an enabler)— the most impactful innovation is human innovation: How can we work together? The GFSI platform started 20 years ago, and now it’s so impactful around the globe. [Now we’re] looking at how to harmonize food safety standards.

How can we standardize and harmonize… for ingredient suppliers?
How [can we] use the GS1 platform, numbering system to track on where the ingredient is coming from and how that product is made for us—what’s in my product?

Think about the human collaboration and how to improve where we’re at.

Poopola: I would like to tackle this from a different perspective: When we built technologies (whether off-the-shelf or customized) 20 years ago, we thought [it would be around for] the next 100 years. It’s clear today that the technology you have in place might be obsolete in five years. We have to look at the technology we’re building and acquiring today: Will it be relevant in five years?

Leighton: It’s hard to wrap my head around…deep learning and AI [artificial intelligence]. The insights we can gain from machine learning and predictive analytics. Could AI be human’s last invention?

Horsfall: In produce industry, which hasn’t always been in the front, I think that’s changing. [We’re] trying to bring AI and new technology to bear.

Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs
FST Soapbox

Why the Food Safety Industry Needs the Cloud

By Mahni Ghorashi
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Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs

Cloud computing and storage, the breakthrough technology that once dominated headlines, conferences and CIOs’ strategic plans, is now commonplace in most industries. That is not to discount the journey it took to get here, though. This easy acceptance wasn’t always the case, and in fact, some of the world’s most important industries are lagging behind.

Food safety is one such industry that stands to gain the most from adopting cloud technology but continues to rely heavily on manual processes, paperwork, and cumbersome on-premise databases. These methods are seen as fail-safe, proven by history to be effective enough and compatible with the overarching goals of the industry. We’re suffering from the age-old adage: If it isn’t broken, we don’t need to fix it.

While the food safety industry has good reasons for taking a more conservative approach to new technology, I’d argue that the most pressing risk to our industry is the failure to invest in innovation. In our own attempts to avoid risk, we’re actually exposing ourselves to far greater losses both in protecting consumers and new opportunities.

A Path Forward For Food Safety

The food safety industry is changing, and changing rapidly. However, despite advances, the industry still faces major challenges. We’ve seen more than 200 recalls just this year. An average recall costs $10 million dollars in direct costs alone. On average, it takes 57 days to recall food, according to a report by the Office of Inspector General.

At the same time, we’re beginning to generate more data than ever, with technologies like blockchain and next-generation sequencing coming online in a big way. We’re about to experience a data explosion arguably bigger than in any other industry. A single NGS test can give industry officials hundreds of millions of data points per analysis, and routine pathogen tests are happening at high volumes around the clock.

This amount of data cannot be contained in the spreadsheets and on-premise databases of today.

The hesitation to adopt cloud-computing is not unfounded, given the initial fear around outages and security, and a disbelief that the technology could ever be as reliable and secure as their existing systems. And the hesitation is even more understandable when you consider that food and beverage is the third-most hacked industry. The damage from these breaches can be extensive, with reports that 70% of hacked food and beverage companies go out of business within a year of an attack. There is a substantial cost for lax security or prolonged outages.

Clearly, any solution has to be comprehensive, and our justifications for switching systems have to be all the more clear. But we cannot as an industry sit idle.

The food safety industry has an opportunity to learn from those who have gone before us and build a stronger, more robust cloud infrastructure.

We’re starting to see this shift take place – some of the top poultry manufacturers have already made the leap into cloud computing. They and others will prove that the value of making the move far outweighs the risk.

Quality Control and Consistency

Right now, it’s not uncommon for food safety employees to record their observations via paper and pencil. In a best-case scenario, these professionals are forced into spreadsheets with limited interoperability. In either scenario, there are huge amounts of friction when it comes to sharing information and, in fact, data can easily be lost as inboxes fill, software crashes, or papers get buried in the shuffle.

By enabling instantaneous data sharing, the cloud makes collaboration across an organization easily accessible for the first time. This, in turn, boosts productivity and also guarantees a higher degree of consistency in both process and results.

Employees can instantly share results, communicate across departments, and easily control permissions and access to information, allowing others to iterate on or apply their findings in real time.

Speed Across an Organization

The drive to increase efficiency actually underwrites the entire food safety industry. Experts are constantly asking how we can be faster at assessing risk, managing recalls, and generally running a business. These questions are only becoming more important as the threat of foodborne illness continues to rise.

The cloud enables greater speed in tracking food information inside and outside of the lab. Perhaps more than any other tool, cloud technology is going to allow the food safety industry to more quickly and effectively manage recalls.

Technology that allows companies to immediately update information company-wide without the burden or drag of an unwieldy IT infrastructure is valuable. Technology that gives you easily interpretable results, so that you can make quick decisions for the good of public health safety is valuable.

Cloud technology enables both. You could easily process terabytes worth of data and spit out easy, comprehensible results that would have otherwise taken days or weeks to produce.

This ability, which on its own is attractive, is especially important as you get into more complicated pathogen tests. For example, with traditional serotyping, a substantial portion of calls are subjective. The speed of cloud computing can take away some of that guesswork.

Dramatic Cost Savings

Not only does the cloud offer a faster system for storing and accessing information, but it also offers cheaper infrastructure, usually an offshoot of its speed. A survey of more than 1,000 IT professionals found that 88% of cloud users pointed to cost savings and 56% agreed that cloud services had helped them boost profits. Additionally, the absolute cost of the cloud is continuing to drop, improving margins.

With the cost savings enabled by the cloud, the food safety lab no longer has to stay a cost center. Adopting cloud technologies can create more wiggle room in a company’s budget and free up resources for ambitious experiments, new product development, and other activities that contribute to the bottom line of the organization.

Security and Regulatory Advancements

The cloud also allows companies to more easily cooperate with HAACP and FSMA regulations. With all of this organizational data easily available and updated in real time, organizations can ensure they’re keeping pace with regulatory requirements by easily producing traceability records and managing compliance requirements across multiple locations and vendors, for example.

While better, more transparent data management company-wide has always been the draw of cloud, the technology has been crippled by simultaneous concerns about security. Food safety executives feel stuck between wanting to comply with best practices and needing to protect sensitive and valuable information.

Fortunately, food safety has waited long enough. Even as recently as 2015, cloud breaches of major organizations’ databases were still making headlines. However, the technology has come a long way in a short time. Cloud providers are beginning to implement automatic checks of systems to analyze threats and identify their severity.

These advancements speak to the food safety industry’s primary pain points, security and speed. By solving for both, the cloud has reached a maturity worthy of the food safety industry.

The Future: Data Pollination

Finally, the cloud makes it much easier to share data across departments, organizations, and even entire industries.

We’re entering an era of data pollination. What I mean by that is there an opportunity to mesh food safety data (genomic data, label information, etc.) with other forms of data—human microbiome data, for instance, to create “personalized” food, enabling consumers to eat ideal foods based on their genetic makeup. While this trend has already taken off, it could be further improved and better validated by bringing food and genetic data out of their silos.

On the opposite end of the production line, data pollination could also help farmers, who have huge amounts of data at their fingertips, understand how they can play a larger role in food safety. If data can enable farmers to produce bigger yields, data can also certainly help farmers prevent any environmental causes of food safety on the farm itself.

Bringing together the data from the entire lifecycle of food—from farmer to consumer—can only be a good thing, powered by the cloud.

Conclusion

The food industry should not look at the task of updating their infrastructure to the cloud as a burden or an extra cost—it’s an investment and when done right, it can provide far greater returns. We have the advantage of late adoption and learning from the implementation mistakes and successes.

This isn’t just incremental improvement territory—we’re talking about making a quantum leap forward in our industry.

Bryan Cohn, Foodlogiq

Managing Risk and Traceability in the Supply Chain

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Bryan Cohn, Foodlogiq

Traceability and risk management go hand-in-hand. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Bryan Cohn, food safety solution engineer at FoodLogiQ, shares his thoughts on risk and the critical role of communication.

Food Safety Tech: What does risk analysis mean in a complex supply chain?

Bryan Cohn: Risk analysis means the same thing it has always meant. The concept of risk is elemental; it transcends all of humanity and is rooted deep within our very DNA. Sure, we’ve added tools and technology to help us, but we still can not see into the future; thus, there will always be a risk. The best way to perceive, evaluate and comprehend risk in a complex world is faster and more accurate communications.

FST: Why is communication critical to avoid or mitigate risks within the supply chain?

Cohn: Let’s use an analogy here. Nobody likes traffic, right? In the morning when you’re getting ready for work, you might turn on the local news or check your favorite navigation app to find out the traffic conditions along your commute. You know your commute like the back of your hand, and you’re aware of every potential trouble spot along the way. But like most of us, you probably rely on fast and accurate communication from either traffic cameras, local news reports, or navigation information on your phone to give you a real-time analysis of what is happening. So aside from the usual trouble spots, you are made aware of any unexpected traffic accidents, road construction, or weather delays, which allows you to make real-time, actionable decisions about your commute.

If we think ahead – the same way we do about our work commute – and re-evaluate our communication strategy around our supply chains, we can begin to take a much stronger proactive approach to risk analysis and mitigation. If we spot a trend within our supply chain that may increase risk, we can take action before a threat materializes or intensifies.

FST: Can your risk management plan create value in the company?

Cohn: Any time a good communications strategy is integrated into your risk management program, you create value. By soliciting, evaluating and responding to feedback, you will inherently mitigate risk by addressing potential problems before they become problems and identifying new threats in a fast moving complex supply chain.

Melanie Bradley, Partech

Tech Spotlight: Using Technology to Improve Processes in the Supply Chain

By Melanie Bradley
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Melanie Bradley, Partech

Whether driven by regulatory factors or brand protection, the food industry has adopted advanced monitoring and management technologies to maintain and support modern day food safety cultures and operations within companies. This type of technology utilizes checklists and sensors designed to monitor and gather data. Typically, these are built into handheld devices that store collected information in the cloud. The stored data is instantly accessible for management to monitor. Additionally, the FDA demands that two years worth of records be on hand during an inspection. Instead of sorting through copious piles and file drawers of paper, the information can be pulled directly from the database and presented to the inspectors.

In an effort to improve the operation, food companies should adopt new processes to be proactive and ditch the old days of manually tracking and recording temperature data. Utilizing this type of technology ensures consistency, transparency and quality. Not to mention the increase in efficiency and savings over time.

Perhaps the most powerful technological methodology to implement is using the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve processes in the supply chain. How is IoT relevant for a food safety strategy? In an integrated approach to food safety, IoT temperature sensors dispersed throughout the cold and hot food chain, coupled with a food safety/task management system for taking HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) required food safety temperature measurements, provides unprecedented visibility and traceability, for an end-to-end food safety strategy for grocery stores or restaurants. It’s worth noting that customers are not necessarily looking for an IoT solution when they start the process for acquiring a solution for monitoring coolers/freezers or grills, but for an automated temperature monitoring system whose data is cloud-based and just so happens to be available via the internet.

Data from IoT sensors dispersed through the food chain is continually collected and analyzed to ensure temperatures do not exceed pre-defined limits. These limits are based upon HACCP guidelines. The collected data is then subsequently stored electronically for a period specified by the user, typically up to two years from the collection date per FSMA regulations. If a temperature measurement falls outside pre-defined limits, an alert via text or SMS can be sent to the end-user for corrective actions. Recent developments in IoT have also coupled active monitoring with predictive analytics to determine appliance health.

Should an issue occur in the food chain, food safety data would then be correlated with transactional data to not only define when a limit was exceeded, but to potentially trace the impact to the consumer or in- store sales/profitability. Additionally, high or low sales of a specific item could also be equated to how the item is prepared.

Utilizing checklists that guide operational efficiency, powered by IoT technologies is not only limited to food safety. The capabilities of IoT can be deployed for task management or facilities maintenance practices such as entry/exit applications, facility maintenance/sweep logs, CO2 sensing (beverage and condiment), customer queue length for ordering or check out and incident reporting—when the documentation of an incident is required should a customer or employee incur an injury within the facility.

The implementation of comprehensive end-to-end food safety and task management strategy utilizing remote monitoring based upon IoT promises to provide businesses with a new cornerstone for building a comprehensive and preemptive food safety and facilities plan. By meeting the strict requirements of HACCP regulations, companies can continually reduce operational expenses, decrease waste and potentially predict events that could affect the food chain and subsequently the consumer. An integrated approach to food safety utilizing a food safety/task management system with IoT can positively influence all consumers within the restaurant, grocery and food chain realms.

Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.
Retail Food Safety Forum

How Technology is Elevating Food Safety Practices & Protocols

By Francine L. Shaw
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Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.

Technology is elevating food safety practices and protocols, and will help reduce or eliminate food safety incidents and outbreaks in the future. However, a major challenge will be getting food businesses to adopt these tech tools. Food service companies have been slower than other industries to adopt technology, preferring instead to do things “the way they’ve always done them”— often using antiquated pen and paper systems to track food safety standards. Often, food business owners are worried about the cost and implementation of tech solutions, fearing that they’ll be too expensive and/or complex for them to manage.

Something has to change in our industry. Food recalls are on the rise—recently with a huge nationwide romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak and recall. Even a big name packaged breakfast cereal was recently recalled for possible contamination.

America’s food industry has a $55.5 billion safety problem annually, as reported by Fortune magazine (This information was gathered from a 2015 study by Robert Scharff,  an associate professor at Ohio State University, who estimated that foodborne illnesses cost $55.5 billion per year in medical treatment, lost productivity, and illness-related mortality in the United States). This includes foodborne illnesses at restaurants and retailers, food recalls, and other food safety issues.

The CDC reports that 48 million Americans become sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States. Therefore, investing in food safety is one of the smartest things that food service organizations can do. The expense, time and energy necessary to implement—or elevate—your organization’s food safety protocols won’t be overwhelming, and it’s crucial to your business’ success.

Foodborne illnesses are expensive and damaging for businesses. Having a foodborne illness incident or outbreak can cost significant money—including decreased revenues, hefty legal fees, potential lawsuits, diminished sales (and loyalty) from guests afraid to visit the (possibly contaminated) restaurant or store, and a damaged reputation that could permanently shut your doors.

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Food safety should be part of every company’s culture. Everyone—on every shift—should be trained in proper food safety protocols. And, since tech solutions have become more accessible and mainstream, more food businesses should adopt and use them.

The latest technologies are elevating the way many food service businesses operate. Not only do these technological tools make food safer, but they can also save restaurants, convenience stores, hotels and other food service companies a tremendous amount of money each year.

Technological solutions enhance food safety protocols and make it faster, more accurate, and more efficient to conduct inventory, auditing, training and keep food safe. Investing in technology is something that all food businesses should do to help boost the health and safety of their establishments.

Nothing will negatively impact your organization’s brand and reputation more than a foodborne illness outbreak. While human error can never be completely eliminated, advancements in technology help minimize the risks. Some innovative developments include:

  • Sensors. Sensors ensure foods are being held at proper temperatures. For instance, centralized, continuous refrigeration monitoring systems signal when temperatures in coolers or freezers rise above safe holding temperatures, eliminating the need to throw away entire coolers or freezers of food due to improperly working units. As a result, businesses can save thousands of dollars (or more) in lost product and potentially save lives by storing cold foods properly.
  • Digital auditing tools. Innovative digital tools can now be used for food companies’ internal auditing systems, which is a more efficient, cost-effective and accurate solution versus the pen and paper methods that are often (and widely) used in the food service industry. Using pen and paper to audit restaurants, hotels, institutions and stores often results in increased labor, time, errors and expenses. Additionally, hard copy records can be hard to organize and access—and it’s extremely difficult to integrate and analyze the data. Digital tools provide more efficient, cost-effective internal auditing systems, with records that are easy to access and analyze.
  • Mobile solutions. The food service industry is comprised of many employees from younger generations (e.g., millennials and Gen Z), and these populations have grown up on their smartphones. Now, food businesses can leverage digital tools that can be used on cell phones and tablets, which is an easy and effective way to engage younger employees. Many companies are providing downloadable apps that enhance the way food service employees conduct inspections, keep temperature logs, conduct training, manage QA forms, access food code information, and more. Critical food safety information can (literally) be at employees’ fingertips.

These (and other!) tech solutions offer significant benefits to food service businesses, including:

  • Boosting operational systems. Digital tools can help with brand protection and quality assurance concerns by optimizing and improving line checks, shift logs, inspections, auditing and other reporting.
  • Improving the bottom line. Investing in technology boosts companies’ operational efficiencies, which has been proven to improve their bottom line. Technology tools can reduce or prevent food spoilage, reduce labor costs and help avoid foodborne illnesses.
  • Reducing fraud. There’s a widespread “pencil whipping” problem in the food service industry, where employees using paper record systems falsify records or “cheat” on their processes. As much as food service leadership wants to deny that “pencil whipping” happens in their organizations, it’s (unfortunately) a fairly common practice in restaurants, convenience stores and other industry businesses. Pencil whipping can result in increased food safety risks, food code violations and other (potentially costly) issues. Digital tools can help reduce or eliminate “pencil whipping” through real-time data collection, and visual records using photos and videos.

While technology has previously been considered to be a luxury, today, digital tools are affordable, widespread and accessible. Technology that can help minimize labor, reduce (or eliminate) foodborne illness risks, and minimize food waste is not an expense, it’s an important investment.

Technology streamlines operations, improves safety protocols, reduces errors, integrates data—and so much more. The benefits are huge. Often, food service owners tell me that they can’t afford the investment, or that they’re overwhelmed about how to find and implement the right system. I reassure them that it’s truly easier than ever to incorporate tech tools into food companies, and it’s one of the smartest things companies can do. Innovative technology tools are critical to keeping foods, consumers and businesses healthy and safe.

Mike Robach

The Future of Food Safety: A Q&A with Cargill’s Mike Robach

By Mahni Ghorashi
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Mike Robach

Continuing on our journey to bring you the successes, best practices, challenges and accomplishments from the very best in this industry, this month I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Robach, vice president, corporate food safety, quality & regulatory for Cargill. Mike joined Cargill in January 2004 to lead the company’s corporate food safety and regulatory affairs programs. In this role, he helps partners innovate and manage risk so they can feel empowered to nourish the world

Mike Robach
Mike Robach, vice president, corporate food safety, quality & regulatory for Cargill

Mike has also worked closely with the USDA and FDA regarding food safety policy, HACCP, and regulatory reform based on science. He serves as chairman of the board of directors of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and is a member of the Institute of Food Technologists and the International Association of Food Protection, among many other organizations dedicated to ensuring safe food and bringing innovative technology into the agricultural industry. He has worked with the World Organization of Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on harmonized animal health and food safety standards.

Mahni Ghorashi: What are the biggest risks to our food safety infrastructure in 2018? What’s keeping you up at night?

Mike Robach: The biggest risks I see have to do with supply chain integrity and how companies implement their systems. Too often we do not have line-of-sight to the origin of the commodities and ingredients that make up our products. With global supply networks it’s important to understand where and from whom you are getting your inputs. There is also a need for food safety capacity building throughout the global food system. Many small and medium companies, along with some large companies, do not have the proper training for their employees to manage a food safety program. We also have an issue with constantly changing regulations that are not uniform from country to country, adding risk to our business.

Ghorashi: What are you most excited about? What’s changing in a good way in the food safety sector?

Robach: I am very excited about the application of new technology to our food safety programs. In-line, real-time testing gives an opportunity to manage our processes and make immediate adjustments to assure process control. This allows us to prevent product that is out of control from reaching the marketplace. Blockchain technology gives us the chance to drive greater transparency throughout the supply chain.

Ghorashi: Let’s talk about regulation. How is the implementation of FSMA going? Do you foresee any challenges with the next phase of implementation?

Check out last month’s Q&A with Frank Yiannas of WalmartRobach: I think FSMA implementation is going okay right now. There’s still a long way to go, and I am always concerned about making sure investigators are applying the rules and regulations in a consistent manner. I see the intentional adulteration rule as an upcoming challenge. It is one thing to conduct a vulnerability assessment and adjust your programs based on the results. It’s another to develop and implement a program that will prevent intentional adulteration as you would to reduce or prevent microbiological contamination.

Ghorashi: If you take a look at the homepage of Food Safety News, all you see is recall after recall. Are transparency and technological advancement bringing more risks to light and are things generally trending towards improvement?

Robach: I believe that food safety management programs are constantly improving and that our food is as safe as it has ever been. However, we still have a lot of work to do. At GFSI, we are continually improving our benchmarking requirements and increasing transparency in the process. We have better public health reporting and our ever-improving analytical technology allows us to detect contaminants at lower and lower levels. The industry is working collaboratively to share best practices and promote harmonized food safety management systems throughout the supply chain.

Ghorashi: What is the number one challenge of securing global supply chains for 2018?

Robach: Knowing and understanding the integrated supply chain. Having knowledge and control of the process from origination to consumption would be ideal. We need the implementation of risk-based, harmonized food safety management systems based on the principles of Codex. Assuring the application of these systems along with properly trained employees to implement these programs would be the first step towards a secure, safe global food system.

Ghorashi: How do international trade deals and the stance of the current administration affect the future of food safety policy?

Robach: International trade deals such as the Trans Pacific Partnership and NAFTA can do a lot for the assurance of safe food around the world and within regions. Making sure that food safety provisions are included in these trade deals can drive the implementation of food safety management systems that will ensure safe food for consumers everywhere. These types of deals should allow us to remove technical barriers to trade by basing the requirements on Codex principles and adhering to the WTO SPS agreement.

Ghorashi: What role is blockchain technology playing in food safety? What are the prospects for the future?

Robach: Blockchain has a role to play in driving more transparency across the integrated supply chain. It can allow companies to show consumers where their food comes from. It can also be used to quickly trace back product in the event of a food safety problem. Still, it’s an enabling technology, not a solution.

Ghorashi: What about CRISPR? How is the food industry starting to respond to this technology from both a policy and GMO screening?

Robach: Gene editing holds great promise and many companies are looking at its potential benefits. However, there is always the policy question on whether or not the use of this type of technology should be labeled. I think the food industry has not done enough to promote the use of technology and how food production has improved over the years. We should let consumers know how we apply science to making food safer, more nutritious and more sustainable. At Cargill we have the vision of being the leader in nourishing the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way.

Ghorashi: What trends are you seeing in food safety processes within food companies? Are they becoming more decentralized? Less? How are they balancing innovation with decades-old food safety practices?

Robach: Through the Global Food Safety Initiative, we have promoted harmonized, risk-based food safety management systems. The GFSI-benchmarked certification programs provide an opportunity for companies to implement consistent food safety programs regardless of where they are in the world. Through the GFSI Global Market Program there’s a tool kit that less sophisticated companies can use as a pathway towards full certification. We are constantly updating the benchmarking requirements to assure they are keeping up with changing science and technology.